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Feature Articles
Heart of the PC - 10 Years of Motherboards
By Vincent Chang - 3 Jan 2009,12:00am

Timeline: 2007


  • With the flurry of chipset launches in 2006, things settled down comfortably, as vendors had to manufacture the goods while consumers considered whether they needed the upgrades. Hence, it was not till June 2007 that the next great bang happened. And that was the introduction of Intel's 'Bearlake' motherboards, or the 35 series of chipsets (P31, P35, G31, G33, G35, Q33, Q35) that spanned the entire range, from desktop to low-end integrated solutions.

    These new chipsets all came with support for Intel's upcoming 45nm processors (Core 2 and Quad) and had its maximum FSB bumped up to 1333MHz. The mainstream P35 boards (slated to replace the 965 chipset) were also the first to have DDR3 memory support for the Core 2. Meanwhile those with integrated graphics had a new Intel GMA 3100 with Intel Clear Video technology.

    The only major improvement to the P35 is the largely hyped move towards DDR3 memory support, which the current chipset specifications allow up to DDR3-1333 speeds. In order to facilitate a smooth transition, Intel designed the P35 to have dual memory controllers supporting both DDR2 and DDR3, allowing manufacturers to dictate the take up rate.

    Despite being the first P35 motherboard that we reviewed, the MSI P35 Platinum (DDR2 version) was a solid, "very well built and well rounded motherboard." Other boards that we saw with outstanding performance included the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R which was very good for overclocking and the ASUS P5K3 Premium Black Pearl Edition that was similarly excellent for the same reason. In case you forgot, it was also ASUS' limited edition motherboard series, revived after a four year hiatus. This latest incarnation was still as impressive.

  • We would also get an early look at a Intel X38 board. This new chipset would be launched in September but most vendors were showing off the boards at Computex 2007 and we soon had our hands on the Gigabyte version, the GA-X38-DQ6. As the high-end replacement for the 975X chipset, the X38 came with PCI Express 2.0 support with dual PCIe x16 graphics.

     Our first X38 board, the Gigabyte GA-X38-DQ6.

    As we said, these X38 boards would be available in September and we indeed took the wraps off the X38 chipset with a comprehensive review of that Gigabyte board.

    This diagram basically highlighted the major reasons why you should get a X38 board, or at least what Intel wants you to think.

    For those who are already on a P35 board, the new chipset, enthusiast-class it may be, did not look that much of an advancement since both are of the same generation and there's nothing new besides PCI Express 2.0 and Intel's own XMP memory for overclockers. Of course, if you're coming from a 975X chipset, there are enough improvements to satisfy most users. Overall, the performance of the X38 was generally better than Gigabyte's own P35 implementation, though some nagging issues remained regarding some benchmarks. The fact that this was a DDR2 board may have held the chipset back.

    One other X38 board that would surprise us, but in other ways besides its performance, would be the ASUS P5E3 Deluxe, which would come with ExpressGate, ASUS' way of sneaking Linux into its motherboard, through the use of an embedded "lightweight Linux window manager integrated into the POST sequence of the board."

    Slotted between the expansion slots, this is the little flash module that stores the Express Gate installation.

    Through ExpressGate, you can surf the Internet, check email, watch videos without going into Windows. All the necessary software and hardware have been configured for you, like LAN and Wi-Fi. While you can't install any new software, this utility allows you to connect to the Internet and we all know the tons of stuff you can do online nowadays. This was an innovative feature that distinguished this board (albeit it was already a very good, high-end X38 board) from the competition.

  • AMD would try to revive its ailing CPU with the launch of its consumer processors based on its 'Barcelona' core (K10 architecture). This was aligned with a new motherboard chipset and the sum was the so-called 'Spider' platform that AMD was touting, which also included a Radeon HD 3800 series GPU.

    The AMD 790FX chipset.

    Supporting the new Phenom X4 CPUs, the new chipset, the AMD 790FX would have a new Socket AM2+ which is compatible with the older AM2 format. New features included HyperTransport 3.0, PCI Express 2.0, DDR2-1066 support, split power planes and a total of 42 PCI Express lanes, 32 of which are dedicated for graphics, hence supporting up to 4-way CrossFireX. AMD however had to stick to an older SB600 SouthBridge that may hamper its attractiveness, due to limited SATA 3.0Gbps ports and no integrated Ethernet.

The K9A2 Platinum with support for the new AMD Phenom cores and using the AMD 790FX chipset.

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